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Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. Midterm elections in May for 12 (of 24 total) senators, all congressional representatives, and local government leaders were seen as generally free and fair, despite reports of violence and vote buying. The ruling party and allies won all 12 Senate seats and maintained a roughly two-thirds majority in the 306-seat House of Representatives. Barangay (village) and youth council elections originally scheduled for 2021 were rescheduled for December 5, 2022 so that local and national elections will occur in the same year.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions with a high incidence of conflict, particularly the Mindanao region. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The PNP Special Action Force is responsible for urban counterterrorism operations. President Duterte’s May 2017 declaration of martial law for the entire region of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago was extended until the end of the year, giving the military expanded powers in the area. Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top departmental and municipal police officers and the provision of resources. The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The AFP controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs), while Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) fell under PNP command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited CVO and CAFGU members into those armies. Civilian control over security forces was not fully effective.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; reports of forced disappearance by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; torture by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; arbitrary detention by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; corruption; and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by terrorists and groups in rebellion against the government.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity continued following the increase in killings by police in 2016. Significant concerns also persisted about impunity for the security forces, civilian national and local government officials, and powerful business and commercial figures. Slow judicial processes remained an obstacle to bringing government officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses to justice.

Muslim separatists, communist insurgents, and terrorist groups continued to attack government security forces and civilians, causing displacement of civilians and resulting in the deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Government harassment of some media outlets occurred, however, and polls suggested many Filipinos consider it dangerous to publish information critical of the administration.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately and discuss matters of general public interest. Civil society organizations, however, said that President Duterte’s public attacks on individuals and international bodies who criticized his policies had a chilling effect on free speech and expression.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, including criticism of the government, despite critical and threatening comments from political leadership, including the president.

Journalists noted President Duterte’s tendency to single out reporters who asked tough questions had a chilling effect on their willingness to engage, in large part due to a fear of losing access.

The online news website Rappler was a target of substantial pressure, including legal and administrative actions, which some observers attributed to its critical coverage of the government. Rappler reporters and provincial correspondents are banned from presidential palace events and press briefings. In April, Rappler asked the Supreme Court to declare the coverage ban unconstitutional, and in August, 41 journalists from different media organizations joined Rapplers petition in the case.

In March, Rappler lost its appeal before the Court of Appeals (CA) against the CA’s ruling that the investment Rappler receives from U.S.-based Omidyar Network violated constitutional prohibitions on foreign control of a media company. The CA ordered the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to reassess the revocation of Rapplers operating license; the SEC has yet to release the results of its review. Rappler Holdings and its president, veteran journalist Maria Ressa, were simultaneously facing a number of other court challenges stemming from the foreign investment allegation, charges that Human Rights Watch called “politically motivated” and which it described as an attempt to muzzle critics of President Duterte and his war on drugs.

On March 28, Ressa was arrested on charges related to the foreign financing issue and released later the same day after posting bail, her second arrest of the year (see “Libel/Slander Laws” below). In October a court ordered the suspension of proceedings and remanded one of the cases concerning supposed code violations back to city prosecutors citing a denial of Rapplers due process since the publisher was not initially informed of the alleged violations, thus preventing an appeal.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence, including from politicians and government authorities critical of their reporting. Human rights NGOs frequently criticized the government for failing to protect journalists. Government authorities accused members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines of supporting the communist insurgency, claims the organization said were meant to intimidate and silence its members.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), a press freedom NGO, reported the Mindanao-based radio broadcaster, Eduardo Dizon, was killed on July 10. The broadcaster’s station claimed his killing was meant to silence media personalities critical of politicians in the region. As of October, CMFR had not determined whether two other journalists’ deaths and another journalist’s shooting during the year were related to their work. According to CMFR, as of November a total of 15 journalists have been killed since President Duterte’s election in 2016, and Human Rights Watch reported that journalists and media personalities noted an increase in online harassment and threats of violence in response to articles and comments critical of the government since 2016.

In April the presidential palace disseminated a “matrix” of institutions and individuals allegedly involved in a conspiracy to discredit and oust President Duterte ahead of the May midterm elections. Among those implicated were journalists from Rappler, Vera Files, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. The incident was characterized by human rights NGOs and journalists as an attack on press freedom and the president’s opponents.

In June a survey from polling company Social Weather Stations showed that 51 percent of the country’s residents agreed with the statement: “It is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.” Nonetheless, the same survey found that 67 percent of the respondents agreed that “mass media in the Philippines have freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press.” Reporters Without Borders noted the government has found ways to pressure journalists who are critical of administration policies.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law requires broadcast franchise renewals be approved by congress; the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, the nation’s most influential broadcast network, has remained in limbo since 2016. President Duterte claimed that the station collected money for, then did not air, his political advertisements during the 2016 election campaign, and he publicly threatened to block renewal of the network’s franchise, which expires in March 2020. Although the president later backtracked and said he would not intervene, as of October the renewal remained tied up in congress, dominated by Duterte allies.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law contains criminal penalties for libel, including, since 2012, for undefined “cyberlibel.” Authorities used criminal defamation charges, with the possibility of imprisonment and fines, to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against journalists. Until February 13, the “cyberlibel” law had not been tested in court. That day the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed “cyberlibel” charges against Rappler’s CEO Ressa and a Rappler journalist. The charge stemmed from a 2017 complaint filed by prominent businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 article linking him to human trafficking and drug smuggling. The NBI initially rejected the case as lacking any legal basis but subsequently recommended that the Department of Justice pursue charges against Rappler. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called the case “politically motivated” and “an assault on media freedom.” On February 13 Ressa was arrested, charged, and held overnight before being released on bail. Three days after the arrest, the news outlet Philippine Star took down a 2002 online article on Keng, reportedly after he “raised the possibility of legal action.” The 2002 article was a source for the 2012 Rappler piece. Media groups criticized the Philippine Star for caving to political pressure. In October the court granted Rapplers request to file a motion for case dismissal based for insufficient evidence, but the plea was denied in November, with another hearing set for December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Foreign Travel: Government limits on foreign travel were generally based on security or personal safety factors, such as when a citizen had a pending court case, or to discourage travel by vulnerable workers to countries where they could face personal security risks, including trafficking or other exploitation. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration manages departures for work abroad. It requires overseas workers to register and receive predeparture screening, training, and certification before traveling, and is intended to ensure that future overseas workers deal with legitimate, licensed recruitment agencies.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: No comprehensive legislation provides for granting refugee status or asylum. The Department of Justice’s Refugee and Stateless Persons Protections Unit (RSPPU) determines which applicants qualify as refugees in accordance with an established, accessible system that appeared to provide basic due process.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government by secret ballot in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Candidates, including for the presidency, frequently had their legal right to run for office challenged by political opponents based on criminality, citizenship, or other disqualifying conditions. These cases were sometimes pursued to the Supreme Court. Political candidates were allowed to substitute placeholders for themselves if unable to complete the registration process on time.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Prolonged delays in the justice system reinforced the perception of impunity for the security forces and for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of corruption and human rights abuses.

President Duterte spoke frequently about his desire to fight corruption and fired public officials, including political allies, over allegations of corruption. In his July 22 state of the nation address, Duterte said his administration had zero tolerance for corruption, citing the Bureau of Customs (BOC) as one of the most corrupt government agencies. He directed the Office of the Ombudsman to file administrative charges against 64 BOC personnel for alleged links to corruption.

Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the PNP and other security forces and noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations.

The PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption in the police was endemic continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) remained largely ineffective. From July 2016 to April 2019, senior government officials stated that the PNP received 14,724 complaints of human rights violations against its officers. Of these, the PNP recommended disciplinary procedures in 3,619 cases and decided to drop charges in 588 cases. The disposition of the remaining cases was unknown. Although the IAS claimed manpower and resource limitations hampered its investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, it asserted the majority of police operations were legitimate, lawful police actions. The PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force also monitored police personnel suspected of illegal activities. Additionally, as of April the PNP reported that 7,867 police received administrative punishments, 4,100 were suspended, and 2,367 were dismissed; the number of other punishments including reprimands, demotions, forfeiture of wages, and deprivation of privileges was unknown.

From January to August, complainants reported 68 cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses to the Office of the Ombudsman, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A majority of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of August all cases remained open pending additional investigation.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the PNP through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights modules were included in all PNP career courses, and the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing. Several NGOs suggested that PNP training courses should have a follow-up mechanism to determine the effectiveness of each session.

The AFP Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through July, no extrajudicial killings or murders, or forced disappearances were identified and investigated by the office.

The military routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. Successful completion of these courses is required to complete basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. According to AFP’s human rights office, internal human rights training is conducted from the general headquarters level down to battalion units, totaling hundreds of training exercise annually. From January to August, various AFP service units conducted five human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the CHR. CHR representatives noted that participants were highly engaged. In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross and NGOs provided training throughout the year.

The Congressional Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the CHR and other agencies through background investigations. The commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces were poorly resourced and remained largely ineffective. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection. The CHR operated a small witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the antidrug campaign. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward or to cooperate in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

Corruption: To combat corruption, the constitution establishes the independent Office of the Ombudsman, an appellate level anticorruption court, and the Commission on Audit. All three organizations were underresourced, but they actively collaborated with the public and civil society and appeared to operate independently and use their limited resources effectively. Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in a number of cases, officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.

Between January and July, the Office of the Ombudsman won 334 convictions in 528 corruption cases. While the total number of cases in this period was down only a little over 10 percent, the conviction rate fell from just over 75 percent in the same period in 2018 to just over 63 percent during the year.

In July a former mayor of Tabuk, Kalinga, and his wife were convicted and sentenced to between 16 years and 10 months to up to 34 years in prison for two counts of direct bribery. In March the governor of Samar and two other former provincial staff members were convicted of graft and collectively sentenced to 115 years in prison for the “anomalous purchase” of emergency supplies worth 16.1 million pesos ($301,000) following a typhoon in 2001.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials and employees to file, under oath, a statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) and to disclose their personal business interests and financial connections as well as those of their spouses and unmarried children living in their households. Nondisclosure is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine not exceeding 5,000 pesos ($93.50), or both, and, at the discretion of the court, disqualification from holding public office. The Civil Service Commission implements and enforces the law, forwarding nondisclosure cases to the Office of the Ombudsman for prosecution.

A former BOC deputy commissioner was charged with making false statements and with three counts of failing to make certain disclosures in his SALN; the falsification charge was withdrawn, he pled guilty to the other charges and was removed from office.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were under pressure not to cooperate or respond to the views of international human rights organizations. Local human rights activists continued to encounter occasional harassment, mainly from security forces or local officials from areas in which incidents under investigation occurred.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In March the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court came into effect. This step followed the February 2018 announcement by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) of a preliminary examination of potential crimes, including extrajudicial and other killings, allegedly committed since July 1, 2016, in the government’s antidrug campaign. In a March 2018 speech, President Duterte ordered security forces not to respond to any probe or investigation requests on human rights abuses in the country, and later that month the country submitted a formal notification of withdrawal from the ICC.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHR’s constitutional mandate is to protect and promote human rights; investigate all human rights violations, including those reported by NGOs; and monitor government compliance with international human rights treaty obligations. Approximately three-quarters of the country’s 42,000 villages had human rights action centers that coordinated with CHR regional offices. Although the legislature has doubled the CHR’s budget in the last two to three years, despite the executive’s efforts to reduce it, the CHR nonetheless lacked sufficient resources to investigate and follow up on all cases presented to its regional and subregional offices.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency that responds to complaints about public officials and employees. It has the authority to make administrative rulings and seek prosecutions.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee serves as a multiagency coordinating body on human rights problems. The committee’s responsibilities include compiling the government’s submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review. Many NGOs considered it independent but with limited ability to influence human rights policy. The committee also chairs the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons, also known as the AO35 committee. This body determines the appropriate mechanisms to resolve cases of political violence. It inventories all cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations and classifies cases as unresolved, under investigation, under preliminary investigation, or under trial.

The Regional Human Rights Commission is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with monitoring alleged human rights violations in the BARMM.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, with the exception of the military, police, short-term contract employees, and some foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes; it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights.

Laws and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. The law prohibits organizing by foreign national or migrant workers unless a reciprocity agreement exists with the workers’ countries of origin specifying that migrant workers from the Philippines are permitted to organize unions there. The law also bars temporary or outsourced workers and workers without employment contracts from joining a union. The law requires the participation of 20 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit where the union seeks to operate; the International Labor Organization (ILO) called this requirement excessive. The scope of collective bargaining in the public sector is limited to a list of terms and conditions of employment negotiable between management and public employees. These are items requiring appropriation of funds, including health care and retirement benefits, and those that involve the exercise of management prerogatives, including appointment, promotion, compensation structure, and disciplinary action, are nonnegotiable.

Strikes in the private sector are legal. Unions are required to provide advance strike notice (30 days for issues associated with collective bargaining and 15 days for issues regarding unfair labor practices), respect mandatory cooling-off periods, and obtain approval from a majority of members before calling a strike. The Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE/labor department) National Conciliation and Mediation Board reported 580 mediation-conciliation cases from January to September. Of these, 398 cases were filed under preventive mediation, 165 under notices of strike or lockout, 13 cases under actual strike or lockout, and four wildcat strikes or strikes without notice. The number of wildcat strikes increased from one to four during the year, mostly dealing with contractualization and regularization issues.

The law subjects all problems affecting labor and employment to mandatory mediation-conciliation for one month. The labor department provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the department also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.

If mediation fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Parties may bring any dispute to mediation, but strikes or lockouts must be related to acts of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining laws, or a collective bargaining deadlock. The law provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years for participation in an illegal strike, although there has never been such a conviction. The law also permits employers to dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike.

The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes under the threat of automatic dismissal. Government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes. Government workers may also assemble and express their grievances on the work premises during nonworking hours.

The secretary of the DOLE, and in certain cases the president, may intervene in labor disputes by assuming jurisdiction and mandating a settlement if either official determines that the strike-affected company is vital to the national interest. Vital sectors include hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other activities or industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Labor rights advocates continued to criticize the government for maintaining definitions of vital services that were broader than international standards.

By law antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, is an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties (although generally civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties).

In most cases, the government respected freedom of association and collective bargaining and enforced laws protecting these rights. The Department of Labor has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Commission’s (NLRC) labor arbiter may also issue orders or writs of execution for reinstatement that go into effect immediately, requiring employers to reinstate the worker and report compliance to the NLRC. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review by the quasijudicial NLRC, as they may constitute possible unfair labor practices. If there is a definite preliminary finding that a termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass layoff, the DOLE secretary may suspend the termination and restore the status quo pending resolution of the case.

Penalties under the law for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were generally not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The NTIPC serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism on labor and employment for organized labor, employers, and government on the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also acts as the central entity for monitoring recommendations and ratifications of ILO conventions. The labor department, through the NTIPC, is responsible for coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases alleging violence and harassment of labor leaders and trade union activists pending before the ILO.

Workers faced several challenges in exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Some employers reportedly chose to employ workers who could not legally organize, such as short-term contract and foreign national workers, to minimize unionization and avoid other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The nongovernmental Center for Trade Union and Human Rights contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. In August the president vetoed a proposed law that would have converted many of these temporary workers into regular workers. Employers also often abused contractual labor provisions by rehiring employees shortly after the expiration of the previous contract. The labor department reported multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.

Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts by maintaining union-free or strike-free policies. Unions also claimed the government stationed security forces near industrial areas or SEZs to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in SEZs used frivolous lawsuits to harass union leaders. Local SEZ directors claimed exclusive authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Employers controlled hiring through special SEZ labor centers. For these reasons, and in part due to organizers’ restricted access to the closely guarded zones and the propensity among zone establishments to adopt fixed term, casual, temporary, or seasonal employment contracts, unions had little success organizing in the SEZs. The DOLE does not have data on compliance with labor standards in SEZs.

In June the ILO noted that numerous cases of trade union murders and other acts of violence remained for which the presumed perpetrators have yet to have been identified and the guilty parties punished, even several years after the incidents.

In February union activists said that Pulido Apparel Company claimed financial difficulties to justify dismissing most of its workforce and then reopened and refused to hire workers with union ties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Legal penalties are sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Trade unions reported continued poor compliance with the law, due in part to the government’s lack of capacity to inspect labor practices in the informal economy. The government continued awareness-raising activities, especially in the provinces, in an effort to prevent forced labor. The DOLE’s efforts included an orientation program for recruits for commercial fishing vessels, who were among the workers most vulnerable to forced labor conditions.

Reports of forced labor by adults and children continued, mainly in fishing and other maritime industries, small-scale factories, gold mines, domestic service, agriculture, and other areas of the informal sector (see section 7.c.). Unscrupulous employers subjected women from rural communities and impoverished urban centers to domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. They also subjected men to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations and in fishing and other maritime industries.

There were reports some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the violent antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employing children younger than age 15, including for domestic service, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians, and sets the maximum number of working hours for them at four hours per day and no more than 20 hours per week. The law also prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Children between 15 and 17 are limited to eight working hours per day, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. The law forbids the employment of persons younger than 18 in hazardous work. The minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, enticing some children to leave school before the completion of their compulsory education.

Although the government imposed fines and instituted criminal prosecutions for law violations in the formal sector, such as in manufacturing, it did not effectively enforce the law consistently. Fines for child labor law violations were not sufficient to deter violations. From January to July, the DOLE, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program (part of the Health, Education, Livelihood, and Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution, Monitoring and Evaluation [H.E.L.P.M.E.] Convergence Program), conducted five operations and removed nine minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of July, the department closed four establishments for violations of child labor laws.

The government, in coordination with domestic NGOs and international organizations, continued to implement programs to develop safer options for children, return them to school, and offer families viable economic alternatives to child labor. The labor department continued its efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor and to remove children from hazardous work under the H.E.L.P.M.E. Convergence Program. Additionally, in September an executive order created the National Council Against Child Labor, mandating it to fully implement existing child protection laws.

Despite these efforts, child labor remained a widespread problem. Previous cases reported to the DOLE centered in the service and agricultural sectors, notably in the fishing, palm oil, and sugar cane industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as gold mining, manufacturing (including of fireworks), domestic service, drug trafficking, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments. In 2018 the DOLE issued two administrative orders related to child labor. One order harmonized the process of removing children from child labor, referring them to the appropriate agency, and assisting them with all necessary service(s) and intervention. The other created the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment, Recruitment of Minor Workers, and Trafficking in Persons.

NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation.

Online sexual exploitation of children and child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see sections 6 and 1.g., respectively).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on age, sex, race, creed, disability, HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, or marital status. The law does not prohibit employment discrimination with respect to color, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, other communicable disease status, or social origin. While some local antidiscrimination ordinances exist at the municipal or city levels that prohibit employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–persons, there was no prohibition against such discrimination in national legislation.

The law requires most government agencies and government-owned corporations to reserve 1 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities; government agencies engaged in social development must reserve 5 percent. The law commits the government to providing “sheltered employment” to persons with disabilities, for example in workshops providing separate facilities. The labor department’s Bureau of Local Employment maintained registers of persons with disabilities that indicate their skills and abilities and promote the establishment of cooperatives and self-employment projects for such persons.

Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in hiring and employment. The labor department estimated that only 10 percent of employable persons with disabilities were able to find work.

Between January and July, no cases were filed to enforce the law. The government did not effectively monitor laws prohibiting employment discrimination or regarding the employment of persons with disabilities. The effectiveness of penalties to prevent violations could not be assessed.

The government had limited means to assist persons with disabilities in finding employment, and the cost of filing a lawsuit and lack of effective administrative means of redress limited the recourse of such persons when prospective employers violated their rights. In 2016 an HIV-positive worker won a case against his employer for having been fired because of his HIV-positive diagnosis. The court ordered that the individual be reinstated and receive approximately 600,000 pesos ($11,200) in damages and back wages.

Discrimination in employment and occupation against LGBTI persons occurred; a number of LGBTI organizations submitted anecdotal reports of discriminatory practices that affected the employment of LGBTI persons. Discrimination cases included the enforcement of rules, policies, and regulations that disadvantaged LGBTI persons in the workplace. For example, in June a transgendered professor at the University of the Philippines disclosed that the reviewing committee denied her tenure application by citing both professional and interpersonal concerns. She believes her denial was due, in part, to her being transgender.

Women faced discrimination both in hiring and on the job. Some labor unions claimed female employees suffered punitive action when they became pregnant. Although women faced workplace discrimination, they continued to occupy positions at all levels of the workforce.

Women and men were subject to systematic age discrimination, most notably in hiring.

The government allowed refugees to work. A DOLE order affirmed refugees’ and stateless persons’ access to work permits. The Bureau of Immigration provided temporary work permits for persons with pending applications for refugee or stateless status upon endorsement by the RSPPU. The types of employment open to refugees and stateless persons were generally the same as those open to other legal aliens.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of May, tripartite regional wage boards of the National Wage and Productivity Commission had not increased the daily minimum wage rates for agricultural and nonagricultural workers. Minimum wages were below the poverty line.

The law did not cover many workers, since wage boards exempted some newly established companies and other employers from the rules because of factors such as business size, industry sector, export intensity, financial distress, and capitalization level.

Domestic workers worked under a separate wage and benefit system, which lays out minimum wage requirements and payments into social welfare programs, and mandates one day off a week. While there were no reliable recent data, informed observers believed two million or more persons were employed as domestic workers, with nearly 85 percent being women or girls as young as 15 years old.

Penalties for noncompliance with increases or adjustments in the wage rates as prescribed by law are a fine not exceeding 25,000 pesos ($467), imprisonment of one to two years, or both. In addition to fines, the government used administrative procedures and moral persuasion to encourage employers to rectify violations voluntarily. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage or occupational safety and health laws.

By law the standard work week is 48 hours for most categories of industrial workers and 40 hours for government workers, with an eight hour per day limit. The law mandates one day of rest each week. The government mandates an overtime rate of 125 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days, 130 percent on special nonworking days, and 200 percent on regular holidays. There is no legal limit on the number of overtime hours that an employer may require.

The law provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. Regulations for small-scale mining prohibit certain harmful practices, including the use of mercury and underwater, or compressor, mining. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Most labor laws apply to foreign workers, who must obtain work permits and may not engage in certain occupations.

The DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC) monitors and inspects compliance with labor law in all sectors, including workers in the formal and informal sectors, nontraditional laborers, as well as inspects SEZs and businesses located there. The number of labor law compliance officers, who monitor and enforce the law, including by inspecting compliance with core labor and occupational safety standards and minimum wages, was insufficient for the workforce of 42 million, particularly in rural areas. ILO standards for developing countries suggest a need for approximately 2,800 labor inspectors–one inspector for every 15,000 workers. The labor department prioritized increasing the number of officers while acknowledging that insufficient inspection funds continued to impede its ability to investigate labor law violations effectively, especially in the informal sector and in small- and medium-size enterprises.

The DOLE continued to implement its Labor Laws Compliance System for the private sector. The system included joint assessments, compliance visits, and occupational safety and health standards investigations. Labor department inspectors conducted joint assessments with employer and worker representatives; inspectors also conducted compliance visits and occupational safety and health standards investigations. The labor department and the ILO also continued to implement an information management system to capture and transmit data from the field in real time using mobile technology. Violations from January to July included 10,950 for general labor standards, 4,480 for violations of minimum wage rates, and 20,585 for occupational safety and health standards. Following a deficiency finding, the labor department may issue compliance orders that can include a fine or, if the deficiency poses a grave and imminent danger to workers, suspend operations. DOLE-BWC closed six establishments, rescuing 13 minors, for child labor violations as of July.

During the year various labor groups criticized the government’s enforcement efforts, in particular the DOLE’s lax monitoring of occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. Between January and July, the BWC recorded 27 work-related accidents that caused 26 deaths and 35 injuries. Statistics on work-related accidents and illnesses were incomplete, as incidents were underreported, especially in agriculture.

Violations of minimum wage standards were common. Many firms hired employees for less than minimum wage apprentice rates, even if there was no approved training in their work. Complaints about payment under the minimum wage and nonpayment of social security contributions and bonuses were particularly common at companies in the SEZs.

A DOLE order sets guidelines on the use of labor contracting and subcontracting. Some labor unions, however, criticized the order for not ending all forms of contractual work. On July 26, President Duterte vetoed the Security of Tenure Bill, which would have added limits to the use of contract workers, and requested another version of the bill from the Senate and House of Representatives to be filed. The DOLE is also filing its own version.

There were also gaps and uneven applications of the law. Media reported problems in the implementation and enforcement of the domestic worker’s law, including a tedious registration process, an additional financial burden on employers, and difficulty in monitoring employer compliance.

The government and several NGOs worked to protect the rights of the country’s overseas citizens, most of whom were Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) contract or temporary workers. Although the POEA registered and supervised domestic recruiter practices, authorities often lacked sufficient resources to provide complete worker protection overseas. The Overseas Worker Welfare Administration provides support to overseas workers in filing grievances against employers via its Legal Assistance Fund. The fund covers administrative costs that would otherwise prevent overseas workers from filing grievance complaints. Covered costs include fees for court typing and translation, visa cancellation, and contract termination.

The government continued to place financial sanctions on, and bring criminal charges against, domestic recruiting agencies found guilty of unfair labor practices. From January to July, the POEA reported the closure of four unlicensed companies.

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair, despite limited competition among CPV-vetted candidates.

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Vietnam People’s Army aids civilian authorities to provide relief in times of natural disaster. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance; torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions by the government; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement including exit bans on activists; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; trafficking in persons; and use of compulsory child labor.

The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions, against officials who violated the law, but police officers and state officials generally acted with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, in practice the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict freedom of expression. Such laws establish the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” in addition to “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.

Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to intimidate them into agreeing the government’s policies were correct, according to social media and activists’ reports. Family members of activists also reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials. Harassment also occurred at workplaces and included threatening telephone calls and insulting activists in local media and online and attacks on activists’ homes with rocks, shrimp paste, and gasoline bombs. There were reports such abuses caused injury and trauma requiring hospitalization.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets apply this to additional managers as well. One of the leading newspapers, Thanh Nien, demoted 13 managing editors and deputy editors who were not party members in November 2018.

Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint-publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers from five to 10 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($220 to $440) for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

In November 2018 the CPV publicly denounced Chu Hao, who at that time was director and editor in chief of the Tri Thuc Publishing House, for “disobeying the Party’s regulations” and “self-evolution.” Hao, a former vice minister of science and technology and a prominent intellectual, had directed Tri Thuc to publish books with themes of freedom and democracy, such as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, which the CPV viewed as contrary to the official party line. Hao left the CPV, and as a result also lost his position at Tri Thuc.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.

The government permitted activities of journalist employed by foreign-based media outlets. The law requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. In fact, such programming ran on a 10-minute delay. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions between the United States and Vietnam.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government delayed or refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. In May an international journalist was refused a visa request to report on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Hamburger Hill. This same reporter had previously written an article likely seen by the government as unfavorable.

The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.

The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists because of their coverage of sensitive stories. Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, various forms of harassment, and even physical attacks in the form of staged motorbike accidents if they reported on sensitive topics.

Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. When foreign journalists requested access to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or report a story the government might consider sensitive, authorities often either intentionally delayed their response or denied permission to travel.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.

Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often, pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.

In August, two protests against Beijing’s maritime survey seeking information on petroleum reserves in an offshore area in the country ‘s exclusive economic zone took place in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi and a third protest near a site popular with Chinese tourists in Danang received no local media coverage.

National Security: The law stipulates administrative fines of 20 million to 30 million VND ($880 to $1,330) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests and up to 50 million dong ($2,200) for information considered to be distorting history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases, these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings.

Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some limits on the movement of individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.

In-country Movement: Several political activists on probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions, were officially restricted in their movements. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders, including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Chi Dung, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.

Religious leaders are required to specify no more than two to three geographical areas where they will be preaching. They reported that preaching outside of the approved areas was illegal, although enforcement of the law was inconsistent.

Government restrictions required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”

Citizens must register with local police when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders also needed to register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).

Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.

Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases, this included persons wanted for crimes and political or other activism.

The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders, including seven Catholic priests. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation although activists believed that international travel authorization was denied to reduce those activists’ opportunities to speak out against the Vietnamese government. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The ability of citizens to choose their government through free, fair, and periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by a secret ballot that guaranteed free expression and the will of the people was severely limited. Although the constitution provides the ability to elect representatives to the National Assembly, people’s councils, and other state agencies directly, constitutional and legal provisions established a monopoly of political power for the CPV; the CPV was the only party allowed to put forward candidates for office and it oversaw all elections. National Assembly elections take place once every five years by secret ballot. The constitution sets the voting age at 18 and allows candidates to run for election to the National Assembly or People’s Council at 21. The last National Assembly election took place in 2016.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There was, however, a noticeable increase in the number of high-profile arrests and prosecutions of high-ranking officials for corruption. This included existing and retired officials from the Politburo, central party, military, and public security services.

Corruption: The lack of public consultation on land-use plans and government land compensation frameworks was the primary driver of corrupt land transfers, the major type of corruption. Corruption in financial, banking, natural resource mining, and public investment sectors also remained significant political and social problems.

A new Anticorruption Law came into effect July 1. Highlights include provisions enabling stricter and more effective scrutiny of income and assets of public officials.

The Ministry of Public Security reported it processed 181 corruption cases in the first nine months of the year. Media reported that, in the first six months of the year, the CPV punished 256 party members for corruption, an increase of 21 cases compared with the same period in 2018. Among those punished were a deputy prime minister and 12 leaders of ministries or their rank equivalent. In February, two former ministers punished by the CPV in 2018 were arrested on accusations of receiving bribes in excess of $three million from a private businessman.

Financial Disclosure: The new Anticorruption Law requires all state officials, commissioned officers of police and military forces, career military personnel, holders of positions as deputy manager and above in public service agencies and state-owned enterprises, and state enterprise financial management officers to disclose to their agency their income and assets within 10 days from the date of designation or employment. Any change of at least 300 million VND ($15,000) requires an additional declaration. Directors of provincial departments and higher ranks, or persons in charge of official management, management of public funds, public property or public investment or who have influence over the operation of other entities as prescribed by the government are required to submit annual disclosures. Nominees to be National Assembly and People’s Councils’ delegates are required to do so in line with voting law. The law provides for reprimand, warning, suspension, or removal for noncompliance.

The government reported that in 2018 approximately 1,136,902 government workers disclosed their assets and incomes, accounting for 99.8 percent of those required to do so. Only 44 of these statements were verified, of which six were identified as incorrect. Media, however, reported many cases of nondisclosure or false disclosure that were not followed up.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government did not permit independent, local human rights organizations to form or operate, nor did it tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to criticize its human rights practices publicly.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution affords the right to associate and the right to demonstrate but limits the exercise of these rights, including by preventing workers from organizing or joining independent unions of their choice. While workers may choose whether to join a union and at which level (local or “grassroots,” provincial, or national), the law requires every union to be under the legal purview and control of the country’s only trade union confederation, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), a CPV-run organization. Only citizens may form or join labor unions.

The law gives the VGCL exclusive authority to recognize unions and confers on VGCL upper-level trade unions the responsibility to establish workplace unions. The law stipulates the VGCL answers directly to the CPV’s VFF, which does not protect trade unions from government interference in or control over union activity.

The law also limits freedom of association by not allowing trade unions full autonomy in administering their affairs. The law confers on the VGCL ownership of all trade-union property and gives it the right to represent lower-level unions. By law trade union leaders and officials are not elected by union members but are appointed.

The law requires that, if a workplace trade union does not exist, the next level “trade union” must perform the tasks of a grassroots union, even where workers have not so requested or have voluntarily elected not to organize. For nonunionized workers to organize a strike, they must request the strike “be organized and led by the upper-level trade union,” and if nonunionized workers wish to bargain collectively, the upper-level VGCL union must represent them.

The law stipulates trade unions have the right and responsibility to organize and lead strikes. The law also establishes substantive and procedural restrictions on strikes. Strikes that do not arise from a collective labor dispute or do not adhere to the process outlined by law are illegal. The law forbids strikes over “rights-based” disputes. This includes strikes arising out of economic and social policy measures that are not a part of a collective negotiation process, as they are both outside the law’s definition of protected “interest-based” strikes.

The law prohibits strikes by workers in businesses that serve the public or that the government considers essential to the national economy, defense, public health, and public order. “Essential services” include electricity production; post and telecommunications; and maritime and air transportation, navigation, public works, and oil and gas production. The law also grants the prime minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

The law prohibits strikes at the sector- or industry-level and prohibits workers and unions from calling for strikes in support of multiemployer contracts.

The law states the executive committee of a trade union may issue a decision to go on strike only when at least 50 percent of workers support it.

Laws stipulate an extensive and cumbersome process of mediation and arbitration before a lawful strike may occur. Unions or workers’ representatives may either appeal decisions of provincial arbitration councils to provincial people’s courts or strike. The law stipulates strikers may not be paid wages while they are not at work. The law prohibits retribution against strikers. By law individuals participating in strikes declared illegal by a people’s court and found to have caused damage to their employer are liable for damages.

The laws include provisions that prohibit antiunion discrimination and, nominally, interference in union activities while imposing administrative sanctions and fines for violations. The laws do not distinguish between workers and managers, however, and fail to prohibit employers’ agents, such as managers who represent the interests of the employer, from participating or interfering in union activity. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations.

According to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), there were 67 strikes in the first half of 2019. Most of them occurred in southern provinces. Approximately 82 percent of the strikes occurred in foreign direct-investment companies (mainly Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese companies). The strikers sought higher wages, better social insurance, and better meals between shifts. None of the strikes followed the authorized conciliation and arbitration process and thus authorities considered them illegal “wildcat” strikes. The government, however, took no action against the strikers and, on occasion, actively mediated agreements in the workers’ favor. In some cases the government imposed heavy fines on employers, especially of foreign-owned companies, that engaged in illegal practices that led to strikes.

Because it is illegal to establish or seek to establish independent labor unions, there were no domestic NGOs involved in labor organizing. Local, unregistered labor NGOs, however, supported efforts to raise awareness of worker rights and occupational safety and health issues and to support internal and external migrant workers. Multiple international labor NGOs collaborated with the VGCL to train VGCL-affiliated union representatives in labor organizing, collective bargaining, and other trade union issues. The International Labor Organization (ILO)-International Finance Corporation (IFC) Better Work project reported management interference in trade union activities was a significant issue in garment factories.

Labor activists and representatives of independent (non-VGCL) worker organizations faced antiunion discrimination. Independent labor activists seeking to form unions separate from the VGCL or inform workers of their labor rights sometimes faced government harassment. In February 2018 a court convicted and sentenced peaceful labor and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years’ imprisonment under vague articles of the penal code. Binh, arrested in 2017, advocated for compensation for fishermen affected by a 2016 toxic waste spill and posted critical online content about the government’s response to the spill (see section 1.d.). In addition, authorities continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against labor activists, including the chairwoman of the independent Viet Labor Movement, Do Thi Minh Hanh (also see section 2.d.).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor. The labor code’s definition of forced labor, however, does not explicitly include debt bondage. In January penal code amendments entered into effect that criminalized all forms of labor trafficking of adults and children younger than 16. The penalties were not sufficient to deter violations; in fact, the law does not provide any penalty for violating provisions prohibiting forced labor. NGOs continued to report the occurrence of forced labor of men, women, and children within the country (see also section 7.c.).

Labor recruitment firms, most affiliated with state-owned enterprises, and unlicensed brokers reportedly charged workers seeking overseas employment higher fees than the law allows, and they did so with impunity. Those workers incurred high debts and were thus more vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The newly ratified labor code establishes that only people age 18 or older are eligible to work. However, other laws address conditions for employment of children under the age 18. The constitution prohibits “the employment of persons below the minimum working age,” generally 13, with exceptions set by the Labor Ministry. The law prohibits children under 18 from working heavy, hazardous, and dangerous jobs.

Illegal child labor was reported in labor-intensive sectors such as garments and textiles, construction, agriculture, and some manufacturing. Local media also reported children working as beggars in gangs whose leaders abused the children and took most of the children’s income. Some children started work as young as 12, and nearly 55 percent of child workers did not attend school.

In the garment sector, children as young as six and up to 18 reportedly produced garments in conditions of forced labor. The most recently available information from government raids, NGOs, and media reports during the year indicated this was most common in small, privately owned garment factories and informal workshops. Reports indicated these employers beat or threatened the children. In addition, there was evidence children as young as 12 were working while confined in government-run rehabilitation centers. Employers forced these children to sew garments without pay under threat of physical or other punishments.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. As part of the government’s 2016-20 National Plan of Action for Children and National Program for Child Protection, the government continued efforts to prevent child labor and specifically targeted children in rural areas, disadvantaged children, and children at risk of exposure to hazardous work conditions.

International and domestic NGOs noted successful partnerships with provincial governments to implement national-level policies combatting child labor.

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, disability, color, social class, marital status, belief, religion, HIV-status, and membership in a trade union or participation in trade union activities in employment, labor relationships, and work but not explicitly in all aspects of employment and occupation. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on political opinion, age, language, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

No laws prohibit employers from asking about family or marital status during job interviews.

The government did not effectively enforce employment discrimination laws but did take some action to address employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. Companies with a workforce composed of at least 51 percent employees with disabilities may qualify for special government-subsidized loans.

Discriminatory hiring practices existed, including discrimination related to gender, age, disability, and marital status. Women were expected to retire at age 60, compared with age 62 for men, affecting women’s ability to rise to managerial ranks and have higher incomes and pensions.

Women-led enterprises continued to have limited access to credit and international markets. Female workers earned, per year, an average of one month’s income less than male workers, with skilled female workers earning less than male workers with similar skills. Many women above the age of 35 found it difficult to find a job, and there were reports of women receiving termination letters at 35. The VGCL’s Institute of Workers and Trade Unions noted women older than 35 accounted for roughly half of all unemployed workers in the country.

Social and attitudinal barriers and limited accessibility of many workplaces remained problems in the employment of persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varies by region. In all regions, the minimum wage exceeds the World Bank official poverty income level.

The law limits overtime to 50 percent of normal working hours per day, 30 hours per month, and 200 hours per year, but it provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours annually, subject to advance approval by the government after consultations with the VGCL and employer representatives.

The law provides for occupational safety and health standards, describes procedures for persons who are victims of labor accidents and occupational diseases, and delineates the responsibilities of organizations and individuals in the occupational safety and health fields. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law protects “labor subleasing,” a pattern of employment, and thus extends protection to part-time and domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor is the principal labor authority, and it oversees the enforcement of labor law. The Labor Inspections Department is responsible for workplace inspections to confirm compliance with labor laws and occupational safety and health standards. Inspectors may use sanctions, fines, withdrawal of operating licenses or registrations, closures of enterprises, and mandatory training. Inspectors may take immediate measures where they have reason to believe there is an imminent and serious danger to the health or safety of workers, including temporarily suspending operations, although such measures were rare. The ministry acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system and emphasized the number of labor inspectors countrywide was insufficient.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws, particularly in the informal economy.

Credible reports, including from the ILO-IFC Better Work 2019 Annual Report, indicated factories exceeded legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. The ILO-IFC report stated that, while a majority of factories in the program complied with the daily limit of four hours overtime, 77 percent still failed to meet monthly limits (30 hours) and 69 percent exceeded annual limits (300 hours). In addition, and due to the high prevalence of Sunday work, 40 percent of factories failed to provide at least four days of rest per month to all workers.

Migrant workers, including internal economic migrants, and uncontracted laborers were among the most vulnerable workers, and employers routinely subjected them to hazardous working conditions. Members of ethnic minority groups often worked in the informal economy and, according to the ILO, informal workers typically had low and irregular incomes, endured long working hours, and lacked protection by labor market institutions. Additionally, workers in the informal sector are only eligible to pay into a voluntary social insurance fund covering only retirement and survivors’ allowances. Workers in the formal sector and their employers contribute to a system that covers sickness, maternity, labor accidents, and occupational disease as well as retirement and survivors’ allowances.

On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training remained a problem. In 2018 the government reported 7,997 occupational accidents with 8,229 victims, including 972 fatal incidents with 1,038 deaths. Among the fatal incidents, 578 incidents involved contracted laborers, while 394 incidents involved uncontracted laborers.

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